I’m writing ‘a book’ (possibly four) at the moment. I’ve already made public my idea that the ‘social networks’ that we’ve knitted out of the Internet can be used as an “idea collider”, to generate creativity; in the same way that particle accelerators are used to increase the rate of improbable collisions and accelerate scientific data collection and discovery.
Last night I read a tweet from Dave Winer. He both wrote and uses the outline editing tool Fargo to collect his creative sparks. Dave linked to an article by Alex Hillman on ‘Lifehacker’, which suggested that we should all keep such a ‘spark file’ for our light-bulb moments. This excited the idea particles floating in my brain. You might say it dropped a ‘spark’ on the dry tinder I’d been collecting and I replied. Dave didn’t understand a word I said. This post is an attempt to clarify what I think, at least to me.
What I didn’t look at last night was the embedded video, ‘outlining’ Steven Johnson’s book. It ends, “Chance favours the connected mind”. Steve smashed into my thinking the notion that we are not colliding ideas but idea components. We may not be bouncing ideas off one another, hoping for more sparks but fusing together half-baked ideas to make a whole. Almost like ‘society’ still exists on the Internet. Yikes!
Fargo is a web-accessible, scriptable, outlining tool that uses Cloud storage. “An outliner is a text editor that organizes information in a hierarchy”; what we often call a tree but is more often represented as a root system, drawn from the side.
Trello is one of many software implementations of ‘Kanban boards’. The idea was adopted from the Japanese automotive industry to become very popular with Agile software developers and several other more specialised software implementations exist. Trello’s blog proposed “The great horizontal killer applications are actually just fancy data structures. Spreadsheets are not just tools for doing “what-if” analysis. They provide a specific data structure: a table.” Trello’s specialist data structure is ‘List of lists’.
My own brain problem is not memory fragmentation but memory capacity. The fire-bucket I’ve used to catch my sparks for the last few years has been Mindmapping. A mind-map is a tree (or root) drawn from above (or below.)
The first point I failed to express last night was that ‘outlining’, Kanban boards and mind-mapping are topologically equivalent activities.
Hierarchies, list of lists and mind-maps are sylistic variations of exactly the same idea. My Spark File tool of choice is a mind-mapper called Freemind. I particularly like it because (it’s Free, ) it is graphical and allows links between branches, at any level. It breaks the hierarchy. The results are often ugly – just like reality.
Albert Einstein said that a model should be as simple as possible but no simpler. Human society is not a hierarchy but a complex network built on personal relationships interspersed with imposed structure. One of our favourite models is a delusion. If you doubt this, look at a platypus. Yes, I believe there is a better model but I’m still Wombling for half-baked ideas.
Dave Winer’s tweet that started this <https://twitter.com/davewiner/status/448587642813546496
Alex Hillman on Lifehacker <http://lifehacker.com/5941997/defrag-your-brain-with-a-spark-file, including the video outline of Steven Johnson’s book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’.
Trello blog entry on data structures http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2012/01/06.html
Outline Editors http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliner
Kanban boards http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_board